Monday, June 26, 2017

A Seckatary Hawkins Mystery - Stoner's Boy

I had never heard of Seckatary Hawkins until the name was mentioned not too long ago in a Facebook group to which I belong. I looked on e-bay and saw some of the prices were rather high for books in this series, but in glancing through Amazon, I discovered that the first two books had been reprinted by University Press of Kentucky - so I purchased the first volume.

Originally published back in 1921 and written by Robert F. Schulkers, Stoner's Boy tells the story of a group of boys who live along the shore of a Kentucky river during a much simpler time, and who band together to form a club of sorts. They take their club very seriously, and they run regular meetings and keep minutes of the meetings. The main character, Seckatary Hawkins (spelled "Seckatary" because, as he admits in the prologue, he didn't know how to spell "Secretary" when he was elected as such in the boys' club), faithfully records all of the club's meetings and adventures, and so the book is written in somewhat of a journal format in first person from Seckatary's point of view. Each chapter runs Monday through Saturday (for the boys rarely, if ever, met on a Sunday), although occasionally a day is skipped, and with 34 chapters, it's easy to see that the story takes place over the course of more than half a year.

Schulkers does not write Stoner's Boy as an origin story in any way; rather, there are several mentions throughout the tale of prior adventures the boys have had, but they are simple mentions and the reader is not given much in the form of detail. Rather, the author treats the group of boys as already established characters, and dives right into the story of the coming of "Stoner's Boy," who is a dastardly boy who causes problems not only for them, but also for the Pellham boys on the other side of the river. No one knows who Stoner's Boy is - he is sometimes referred to simply as the "Gray Ghost," as he wears a gray coat, a gray hat, and keeps a scarf over the lower half of his face so no one can ever see his face. He's a trouble-maker to the nth degree, as he maliciously attacks the boys and runs, he steals their possessions, he damages their club house and their canoes, and threatens them in any number of ways.

The boys' mentor, Doc Waters, warns them to stay out of trouble and to stay away from Stoner's Boy, but try as they might, they continue to get into the middle of things. And while the cover indicates this is "A Seckatary Hawkins Mystery," there really is not much mystery to speak of. There are a couple of minor mysteries, such as how Stoner's Boy disappears when he goes into the cliff cave, or how he disappears when he runs into the clearing on a nearby island; but the story is more of a boys' adventure tale, as the boys ultimately put aside their differences with the Pellham boys across the river and work together to bring an end to the Stoner's Boy's reign of terror.

The characters all seem to have nicknames - such as Skinny Guy and Long Tom - and there is even one character introduced half-way through whose name is Robby Hood, who is quite adept with a bow and arrow (gee, wonder where that idea came from?). The boys have a number of adventures and get into more than a few scrapes (one boy is tied to a tree and left there overnight in the rain!), but they remain determined to capture Stoner's Boy and his cohorts.

I have to give Schulkers credit - while the mystery part of the story may be tame, if not nearly non-existent, he does instill throughout the story (mostly through Seckatary's words and actions) the importance of honestly, trustworthiness, and loyalty.  It is no surprise that Harper Lee was a big fan of the Seckatary Hawkins books, and that she even referenced them in her classic, To Kill a Mockingbird (which I read many years ago, and now that I know these references are in there, I'll have to go re-read that book!). Another fact about the book is the use of dialect in his writing - Schulkers captures the essence of the time, the characters, and the location through the use of slang, misspelled and misspoken words, and the childhood innocence of immortality.

While not my typical cup of tea when it comes to mysteries, I would definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoys reading children's series, and I'll be hopping on Amazon to buy the second book published by University Press of Kentucky, The Gray Ghost.  Just wish they would reprint more from the series!

RATING:  8 floating barrels out of 10 for giving readers a great Kentucky adventure that, while a product of its time, still puts forth values that should be taken to heart today!

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